Food leaders hail Prime Minister’s environmental plan

By Mike Stones

- Last updated on GMT

Prime Minister Theresa May has pledged to cut all avoidable plastic waste within 25 years
Prime Minister Theresa May has pledged to cut all avoidable plastic waste within 25 years

Related tags Recycling Prime minister

Food and farming leaders have welcomed Prime Minister Theresa May’s new 25-year environmental plan, which sets out proposals for sustainable economic growth, including measures to curb the use of plastics.

Details of the wide-ranging, 150-page strategy were revealed yesterday (Thursday January 11) in a speech in south London. Featured in the plan were an ambition to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste within 25 years and proposals to consult on charges on single-use plastics. Read more details of the plan in the box below.

The Food and Drink Federation’s (FDF’s) chief scientific officer Helen Munday hoped the plan would complement the government’s Industrial Strategy in the creation of a long-term framework in which businesses can operate.

“It’s pleasing to note that the prime minister remains committed to an evidence-based approach to establishing the best way to deal with plastic waste and will consult widely,” ​said Munday. “The food and drink manufacturing industry has an essential interest in protecting and enhancing the natural environment because of its reliance on a continuous, adequate supply of safe, high quality raw materials.”

The FDF strongly supported initiatives to reduce waste throughout the food and drink value chain and to increase resource efficiency, she added. “We have also been working with our members to better understand and protect natural capital, including the protection of Britain’s countryside.”

‘Reduce waste throughout the food and drink value chain’

The National Farmers Union (NFU) said environmental policy and food production must go hand in hand and that home-grown food was critical to the country’s future.

Farming was in a unique position to deliver for the environment – provided there were productive and viable businesses – said the union.

NFU vice President Guy Smith said over the past four decades, farmers had carried out much work to encourage wildlife, benefit the landscape, soil and water and reduce their impact on the climate.  

“Farming also offers innovative solutions to wider environmental challenges,”​ said Smith. “For instance, the government’s current concern with plastics highlighted by the BBC’s brilliant Blue Planet series could be met with substituting synthetic plastics with farm produced biodegradable starch-based packaging.

“But there must be a coherent approach. British farming has a unique role in producing a safe, affordable and high quality supply of food as well as protecting, maintaining and enhancing 70% of the nation's iconic countryside.” 

Dairy UK also welcomed the government’s commitment to evidence-led decision making. The UK dairy sector recognised the role it played in delivering safe, nutritious and sustainable produce, it said in a statement.

“Through The Dairy Roadmap, we have continued to set targets aiming to reduce the industry’s environmental footprint,”​ according to the statement.

“Included in these targets are commitments to improve biodiversity, lower emissions and to send zero ex-factory waste to landfill by 2020. The industry has also pledged to improve the design of dairy packaging to maximise recycled content, improve recyclability and deliver product protection to reduce food waste.”

‘We really need action now’

The London Assembly Environment Committee insisted immediate action was needed to tackle plastic waste. Its chair Leonie Cooper said: “The release of the government’s plastic strategy is welcome. But we really need action now. At current rates, in 25 years’ time, people in the UK would have used 192.5bn plastic bottles!”

The assembly pledged to press for more urgent action to remedy a problem that was “getting worse by the day”.

The British Takeaway Campaign agreed action was needed to curb plastic waste but rejected the idea of a plastics tax and charges on single use plastics. It’s chair Ibrahim Dogus said: “While we agree that more needs to be done to reduce the use of plastics, a tax isn’t the right answer, as it will lead to increased costs for consumers and hurt the many small and independent businesses that make up the UK’s takeaway sector.

“Most takeaways are responsible when it comes to dealing with litter and the sector is already taking steps to encourage consumers to reduce, reuse and recycle. With takeaways reliant on having a cost effective solution to keeping customers’ food hot, an additional plastic tax will harm the prospects of an industry which contributes £9.4bn to the economy.”

Meanwhile, read the prime minister’s speech on the environment here​.


The government’s environmental plan

  • Eliminate all avoidable plastic waste within 25 years
  • Plans to extend the 5p levy on plastic bags from supermarkets to small shops
  • Consult on a new charge for single-use plastic containers, such as takeaway boxes
  • Encourage supermarkets to introduce aisles plastic-free packaging
  • Help developing nations deal with plastic waste
  • Demonstrate global leadership in curbing plastic waste


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